Archive for the ‘Do-it-yourself’ Category

Ever since I was small, my parents told me we had to eat five or more vegetables a day. Unfortunately, while the fruit and vegetables may look the same as when I was a child 50 years ago, today they are inferior. The other day I spoke with a friend who moved here from Europe in the 70s. I mentioned I didn’t want to eat genetically modified fruit or vegetables. She said, “But, we live in New Zealand. They don’t grow genetically modified plants here.”
The truth is farmers worldwide use hybridized and genetically modified seeds and spray their fields with chemical fertilizers, fungicides, and herbicides. Researchers like Weston A. Price have proven that vegetables have dropped their nutrient content by 90% since the 1930s. These days the only way to eat nutrient-dense food grown in healthy soils is to buy or grow our organic fruit and vegetables. I pay a lot for organic produce. At the same time, I am developing and expanding my vegetable patches so we can grow more of our food.

I’m keen on planting more fruit trees at home. However, space is limited as we already grow a fair amount. There are the veterans my parents planted: the plums, lemons, bananas, and grapefruit. There are three feijoa and two apple trees I have put in, as well as two fig trees, although I’ve espaliered the latter to keep them from outgrowing the section. Then I have lime, clementine, and kumquat trees growing in large outdoor pots. To add more at this stage, I have to consider dwarf varieties. The dwarf trees are too small to yield enough fruit, so we buy semi-dwarfs. I’ve planted nectarine and apricot. When buying trees, try to buy direct from the nurseries. And check the labels first to make sure the trees are self-pollinating.

Once home, plant trees in spots with adequate sun. Fertilize regularly. Prune fruit trees at least twice a year. However, do not prune when borer is flying, which in the southern hemisphere is November, December, and January. Another tip is to feed your fruits and vegetables, especially citrus trees with trace elements. Trace Elements Chelates is a good source, available in New Zealand.
With your vegetable beds, keep it simple and plant the vegetables you want to eat. But remember to dig in your ‘soft’ fertilizers like blood & bone or fertilizer teas to the beds and leave for a week before planting.*See my post, Backyard Gardeners2, for the recipe for fertilizer teas. If you live in a highrise or apartment with no access to a garden, it is possible to grow vegetables in planters, grow herbs in pots on windowsills, and have small cloches indoors. However, when you grow plants this way, you provide every nutrient the plants could need, which takes special know-how. Try googling a step-by-step guide or looking it up on YouTube for a tutorial.

Here in New Zealand, we still have a month of winter before us. It has been an ideal time for growing spinach, kale, silverbeet, and brassicas like cabbage or broccoli. I have two beds growing broad beans, which I will dig into the ground next month. It will fix nitrogen in the soil, ready for planting spring crops in October.
August is the time to plant potatoes as the seed potatoes become available in New Zealand prior to spring. You can grow them in garden beds or in containers.
The container method requires a Flexi tub, available at hardware stores for $7 – $11. Drill four holes near the bottom but on the sides not on the floor of the tub. Quarter fill the container with potting mix. Don’t be tempted to use compost in planters or containers. Always use high-grade potting mix or garden mix. Space out about six seed potatoes on the soil and cover with a bit more potting mix. Water them daily and make sure to liquid feed every two weeks. And remember to vary the fertilizers, to keep things lively.

When your potatoes sprout green leaves, add another layer of the potting mix up to the level of the first two leaves. Carry on caring for your plants and as the plants grow, keep filling with potting mix. After four to six weeks, the tubs should be nearly full. The plants might eventually flower and then wither away. At that point, tip out the tubs and harvest the potatoes.
The garden method requires a trench dug across the bed half a spade in depth. Put seed potatoes spaced apart at the bottom of the trench and cover lightly with soil. As the green shoots and leaves come up, add soil and keep adding earth until you have built your trench into a mound running along the vegetable patch. When the greenery above ground starts to fail and wither, it is time to dig up your crop of potatoes. Yum! There is nothing like the taste of homegrown.
Happy Gardening. More next time, green thumbs.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol


Life can be difficult if all you see is everything that’s wrong. Start focussing on what’s right, what’s good, what’s constructive. If you want to feel better, you’ve got to think better. ~ Mufti Menk

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I have finished the backyard gardening course put on by our local council. The webinar series featured a gardening expert, Paul, teaching basic tenets and techniques for backyard gardeners like myself who want to grow more vegetables. The course has been educational. I have learned more than I expected.
The first vital tenet for the home gardener is to develop your ground. The message our tutor Paul repeated most often was to feed the soil and use organic matter to improve it. The organic matter can come from worm bins or compost heaps and needs digging in. Alternatively, it is easy to buy compost by the bagful, which Paul advocated spreading on top of the beds. Fertilizers come in hard (pellet form), liquid, or soft (powdered). Pellets need to be dug through beds and left for two weeks before use, preferably three to four weeks.

I usually buy a bag of sheep pellets once a year and sprinkle it around the garden. I did not realize that I was at risk of “burning” the plants if the pellets ended up against the stems or trunks. Fertilizer powders like blood & bone or powdered seaweed work faster and are safe to use. Always dig them in on a rainy day to save yourself and your house wearing the powder. These products should be dug through first and left to settle for a week or two before planting.
The buzzword these days is tea, especially the homemade kind. In the first post on this subject, Backyard Gardeners, I shared how to make worm tea. If you don’t have a worm farm, or even if you do, you can also make other fertilizing teas, like sheep pellet tea and compost tea. It is best to vary the kinds of products you feed your garden. Just as we need a variety of vitamins and minerals to grow healthy and strong, so do our plants.

Sheep pellet and compost teas are both made the same way. Quarter fill a bucket with pellets/compost, then fill the bucket preferably with rainwater. Again leave for three to four weeks. Then you have fertilizer tea to put in your garden. Typically, the tea is strong, so make sure to dilute it 50/50. Throw the remains of the pellets and compost back onto the compost heap and start your buckets again. And though you might feel tempted to feed your ground more often, once a fortnight is plenty.
As to pests, I was surprised that when it came to controlling the critters munching on our vegetables, the first thing Paul said was, “Don’t worry too much. Most plants will outgrow the pests.” Then, after half an hour of dispensing advice about the various insecticides available, he said the easiest, cheapest way of dealing with pests eating our vegetables was to spray them with a homemade mixture: mostly water with a bit of detergent. Yay! Love it.

An advocate of natural pest control, Paul recommended encouraging birds (who predate on snails and caterpillars) into the garden by providing water and feeders. He suggested employing companion planting, where certain plants are grown together because they repel pests. He also told us about a company in NZ called Bioforce that supplies predatory insects to consume the bugs bothering your plants. There are all sorts of natural, simple ways of dealing with issues in the garden.
My advice? Throw yourself into it. That’s what I did fourteen years ago, and I am obsessed with my garden and growing our fruit and vegetables. The main thing every gardener must remember to do is to love your plants! (My advice, not Paul’s). I believe plants respond to attention and love. I talk to my plants, even sing to them. Why not? You’ll be happier either way.
More another day, green thumbs.
Why not have a go and get gardening!

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Gardening is active participation in the deepest mysteries of the universe. ~ Thomas Berry

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2022 has been a bit of a challenge so far. In uncertain times we tend to hark back to basics. Here, in New Zealand, there has been a groundswell of interest in growing-your-own vegetables since 2020 and even more so this year. This has prompted the city council where we live to offer free gardening courses online.
I came to gardening late in life, when I had to take over maintenance of this quarter-acre property after my husband and I parted ways in 2008. Tending the gardens started as a chore and a burden. At first, I could not believe how much work was involved. But in the last 14 years, I have learned to relish every aspect. I love how it gets you outside, communing with nature. It’s become part of my way of life, and for that, I am grateful. Getting your fingers in the dirt and some sweat on the brow is good for the soul.

By the time the pandemic started, I was at the stage of supplementing our diet with homegrown herbs, leafy greens, tomatoes, beans, and this year I grew cucumbers and broccoli for the first time. But our vegetable beds could be providing so much more. This is why I ended up registering for the backyard gardening webinars offered by the council.
I’m halfway through the course at present. It has been excellent, and I’ve already learned a lot. For instance, vegetables need six hours of sun a day (apart from herbs that can stand the shade). And the most important thing to take care of is the soil. Some people advocate the no-dig method. I have since heard this echoed in the other course of webinars I’m attending on soil ecology, which says no-dig is best as the all-important structure and ecology of the soil remains intact. Our tutor, however, recommends digging and turning the fertilizers over into the soil. But he said, either dig or don’t dig it doesn’t make a lot of difference. Both ways produce results.

Our tutor told us about his property. He and his wife had moved there six years ago. When they took over, the ground was mostly clay and swamped in a ground cover that leached any remaining goodness out of the already sub-standard soil.
They removed all the ground covering plants and brought in trailer load after trailer load of compost, simply spreading it over the top of the clay. They did not bother digging it in. Then he and his wife left it until rain and time had reduced the level, and they repeated the process, adding trailer loads of compost. After another year, they set out a few paths to delineate beds and started planting vegetables. Their backyard plot was underway. Six years later, they grow most of their produce in abundance. It was inspiring and a good goal for all of us.

Our tutor tends to repeat the message throughout each live webinar to ‘keep adding compost’ to your ground. *Though not all composts are created equal. If you’re buying it, make sure you’re not buying a product derived from tanalized timber, as the chemicals in the wood may still be present, and they will affect your yield. If you’re making your compost, make sure it’s 70% green waste from the garden (clippings, leaves) and 30% food scraps (but avoid meat or cooked food as these encourage rats).
By all accounts, the very best sort of composting system for the backyard gardener is to have worm bins. It’s a great way of recycling kitchen scraps, but no dairy, no meat, no citrus or onions. You put tiger worms in with the scraps and mince/chop all the material going in for them as it breaks down faster. Give the bin a splash of water daily. The water that drains through the main unit is called worm tea. This tea can be diluted part 10 tea to 90 water and distributed via a watering can onto all the plants. You can feed the plants every two weeks but no more than that as it can get too much. Empty the worm bin every 4 – 6 weeks.

To thrive, your plants need compost, sun, water, and protection from the wind. Our tutor recommended putting up windbreak cloth around exposed plots or choosing areas for beds protected from the wind. He also suggested collecting seaweed from the beach after a storm. It makes excellent fertilizer. Dig a trench in your veggie patch to spade depth, place the seaweed in the bottom of the trench and cover it with soil. Then leave it alone.


I am busy making plans for my veggie patches. There is a lot to do, but what rewarding and delicious work! There is too much new-to-me gardening information to write about in one post. Therefore, I will split up my notes. More another day, green thumbs.
Why not have a go and get gardening!

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

April 6 question – Have any of your books been made into audiobooks? If so, what is the main challenge in producing an audiobook?
Not yet though I have looked at the prospect many times over the years. At first, in the 90s, I contacted a few voice artists here in New Zealand. I was shocked at the cost. Audiobooks were expensive to produce and the province of a select few professionals. I found the experience so intimidating that I gave up.
A few years went past before I revisited the idea. I had heard that it was possible to create your own audiobooks through Amazon and I looked into the ACX division. Although Amazon had done an admirable job of making the production of audiobooks easier, the most important ingredient, the voice talent, was still non-negotiable. I still needed to find someone who could read my books for me.

When I released my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver in 2020, I gave a twenty-minute keynote presentation. One friend who is dyslexic said audiobooks were vital to her as reading the books herself would take far too long. She said, “When you talk about your books, you speak with such passion and conviction. Have you ever thought of reading your own audiobooks? I’d be the first to buy them.” That got me thinking for the first time about the possibility of doing the voice work myself. Was it possible? Could I do it?

I began to look into it. I’d say the best guide I found was an extensive set of instructions on eBookIt!

Check out the How To Make An Audio Book: A Do-It-Yourself Guide, which details the most basic kit required:
‘A computer with a USB port
A high-quality microphone with a stand and pop filter (that round cloth thing in front of the mic)
A way to connect the mic to the computer (either directly via USB or through a mixing board)
A recording environment with very little to no background noise and no echo
Recording software
Editing software
Audiobook creation software.’

For distribution, Amazon has the largest share of the market through Audible. ‘The author’s choice, as with ebooks, is whether to receive higher royalties by keeping the audiobook exclusive to Amazon/Audible/iTunes, distributing through ACX, or to earn less but cover multiple retailers by distributing on Amazon/Audible/iTunes AND other retailers, services and libraries like Google Play, Kobo, Nook, Overdrive, and Scribd.’
I guess the long and the short of it is that creating and distributing your own audiobooks is a lot of work, whichever way you go. These things are always toughest on Indies. Narrating and producing my own audiobooks would take time and dedication. It comes down to the bottom line. I nearly always end up with the same question. Do I want to tinker around with audio, considering the returns are unlikely to cover the costs when I could be writing my next book?

The new book wins every time.
What about you. Do you want to publish audiobooks? Do you listen to audiobooks?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Do not be troubled by things that have not yet happened. ~ Anon


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One of the changes I made to the backyard here last year was to take out the old fishpond. It was a feature my ex-husband put in about twenty-five years ago. For the last twelve years, I have been responsible for the pond he left behind, feeding the fish, replacing dead ones, and doing the stinking job of cleaning it out every six months. With the warmer temperatures and a much warmer winter in 2021, the pond needed cleaning more often, and frankly, I tired of doing it. In the interest of “doing less” in 2022, (one of my New Year’s resolutions), I decided to remove it.

I gave the goldfish away and emptied the pond. Underneath the plastic liner, I found the edging was made from native hardwood and was still sound. Naturally, I kept the edging, thinking I could turn it into a raised bed.
As November and December went by the deep cavity left by the pond slowly became filled with clay (debris from other garden projects). A small clay mountain in my backyard was not the replacement for the fishpond I had been anticipating. Time to start the process of transforming the clay into friable soil suitable for growing vegetables.

Where I live the area is quite well known for being built on clay. The topsoil was stripped when the land was developed back in the 60s and it generally takes a lot of work to create viable vegetable plots. In the past, I have simply bought in topsoil and compost. But, since I created my compost heap last year, I wanted to employ that resource for this bed and endeavour to work with the clay. I began by moving the hardwood edging I had saved into place.

Under ordinary circumstances, if you aim to turn the dense ground into soil good enough for growing things, you would start working compost and organic matter into the dirt, and within a few years, you would reach the objective. However, there is a quicker way. The magic world of mycelium. This is a type of underground fungi that holds soil together and integrates all landscapes. Mycelium is known as the great molecular soil disassembler of mother nature. It was the first life on the planet billions of years ago, preceding soil and plants, a ‘microbial universe that gives rise to a plurality of other organisms.’

You can transform clay into ‘the good oil’ using compost alone, but if you add mycelium then you accelerate the process exponentially. Mycelium can even convert stone into soil. The oxalic acids and enzymes it produces grab calcium and other minerals, forming calcium oxalates, which are the first step in forming soil. *If you want to know more about mycelium, check out the work of Paul Edward Stamets, an American mycologist, and entrepreneur who sells various mushroom products through his company. He is an author and advocate of medicinal fungi and mycoremediation.
To find mycelium for your garden projects, all you need is a small amount of tissue, which can be found in the ground of old-growth forests. Or you can contact the Stamets website for purchase details.

The first step for my bed was to sprinkle lime over the clay. This is known to break down heavy ground into the soil eventually. I watered this in well. Then I lay on top of the lime old partly-rotted branches and sticks from elsewhere on our property. I watered this in also. For mycelium, I didn’t want to go digging in the public forests because it’s illegal. Instead, I went to my lovely compost heap. Now, as it happens, I’ve been lax and have failed to keep turning the contents regularly and what this has done, unbeknownst to me, is allow the mycelium to grow. The sign of the presence of these fungi in the ground is when the dirt is spongy. I used a spade to get down through the layers of compost and discovered spongy ground. Then I dug out my very own mycelium. Score!

I spread this precious network of cellular architecture on top of my partly-rotted branches on the clay and covered it with some of the lighter material from the compost heap. Again, I watered it carefully. The mycelium should now produce the oxalic acids and enzymes and form the calcium oxalates that will accelerate the desired changes. I set bricks beneath the hardwood edging to give the raised bed more stability and strength.

Last but not least, I laid some old palm fronds over the top to give the contents some much-needed shade from the intense heat of our summer sun. Now, all that is needed is daily watering to keep the mycelium and compost damp, so that it can do its good work. I’m excited to see what takes place and shall be keeping an eye on my soil experiment. Once, I have established friable rich ground in this bed, then the planting can begin. Yay!
If you have kids who are gamers, they will likely already know about the benefits of mycelium. My sixteen-year-old said, ‘Mycelium, oh yeah, I use that sometimes playing Minecraft.’ Gotta love that. Happy gardening.

What sort of soil do you have? If clay is an issue, what have you tried to change the condition? I’m open to further tips.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius


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Every year around this time I have two mammoth jobs that need to be done. My sons and I bake the massive Christmas Cake, which is a rich fruit cake to feed about sixty-four. We also do the photoshoot of my two young victims sons, whom I make dress up in festive gear at the start of December. Then I pick the best photo from the shoot and make our Christmas card for friends and family. We did the photoshoot this weekend. The boys get a bit grumpy about it these days, which I think is quite cute. I had fun making the cards all day. It’s creative, it’s fun and it involves glitter. What more do you need to know?

When I first started this blog, my middle son – who was born with Down Syndrome – featured by himself on the card. Three years later, his little brother came along and the pair got to feature on the next family card and so it has gone on.

Here is how you can make your family greeting card for next-to-nothing.

Once you have your photo, reduce it to a small size. Figure out how many people you are making cards for. Print out the photos on regular A4 paper and cut them out.

Take cheap Christmas cards (I bought ours from the thrift store) and cut them down in size. I use the same “guides” for the layers which I made myself out of cardboard, so they are all the same dimensions. Start with a guide for the size of the card. On Christmas Day each year, I save the interesting pieces of wrapping paper and iron them towards the following year’s cards. Make a guide for the interesting saved paper, or any fun paper you like, as your next layer. It must be smaller than the card and larger than the photo.

Now you have the items you need for your cards: a stack of cut-down cards (preserving the message inside if possible), the rectangles of saved wrapping paper, and a stack of your cut-out photos.

My next step is to cut little flags of “Angelina Hot Fix” which is a synthetic product made by Funky Fibres here in NZ. I’m sure you could find a similar product where you are. The fibres come in different funky colours. You spread a handful between baking paper then iron on a low heat until the fibres fuse, making a thin sheet of sparkly material. I cut out small rectangles of Hot Fix, one for each of my cards.

Begin construction by gluing the saved wrapping paper to the card, at the same time trapping a wedge of Hot Fix in between so that one end extends.

Then glue the photo on the top.

*Tip: dry and flatten the cards after you apply each layer; I put them between chopping boards and pile weights on top.

The best part is adding the embellishments! It is time to decorate the front of each card with glitter and crystals and stickers to your heart’s delight.

Inside each card, I include a surprise, usually gift tags, or I also have a set of miniature antique postcards which I bought in a thrift store once, and I’ll include a couple of those with each one. Match your card as closely as possible to the size of the envelope. It looks better that way. Write a special message inside each card and post it to family and friends.
It’s homemade. It’s personal. It’s crafty fun. What’s not to love?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat. ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder


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Do you have a garden bed that is in a difficult spot in your garden? Our rockery in the backyard is in a challenging position. Located behind the house, it offers drought and flood and full shadow for most of the day. Previously, we had had a dragon tree in the rockery and a young native tree that was already much too large. The job of transforming the rockery became my “lockdown project.” Change it. I would. And, here’s what I did.
The first casualty was the young tree. With the potential to grow into a grand chieftain, I removed it from the rockery, leaving a long oval-shaped dry bed featuring a lone dragon tree at one end and a spindly sapling at the other. The proposition of making this awkward bed into ‘something’ was daunting. With gardening, you have to attempt to forecast into the future how plants will grow and envisage the potential outcome. In the end, you throw the dice and leave it up to nature. Who dares, wins, right?

I started by simply clearing the weeds and scraping off years of detritus to reduce the bed to a blank canvas. The old bricks which had formed the edging had sunk into the ground over time, nearly disappearing in the mud. I dug these out, cleaning them as I went. Then I packed soil around the edges of the bed, putting the bricks back on top, thereby lifting the edging clear.
There are a few ways to go about laying the foundations of a garden bed. You can plant intensely and not worry about weeds. Or you can set down weed matting, adding bark. Or you can do what the landscapers do, lay a layer of bark at least 400 mm deep so the weeds can not grow.

In the case of the rockery, when I tried to lift the top layer of weed matting, I discovered another, even older layer of matting much farther down. So rather than excavating, I opted to leave the matting in place. If you use a weed mat, you will need to add blood and bone to the soil to correct the PH balance of the soil before adding the mat and the bark on top. So I treated every plant with a good dose of blood and bone mixed in with the potting mix.
My father built the rockery wall out of bluestone in the early 1960s. He needed a retaining wall to create a flatter area in our sloping back garden. The wall was higher than it is now, but over the years, the top tier of bluestone had been robbed out and used elsewhere.

One of my first jobs was to hunt out the rogue bluestones from every corner of the property. Then I lay the stones across the bed to create a stepping stone path, imagining my grandchildren hopping from stone to stone one day.
The rockery is a raised bed. Therefore, it’s helpful to use drought-tolerant plants. Cacti and succulents are ideal. Being situated in the lee of the house, I also needed plants that could handle shade. Ask at your local garden centre for suitable plants for the conditions in your bed. In our case, I planted a line of Buxus hedge trees, which are hardy. Along the front of the rockery bed, I dug in yellow grasses for colour and contrast.
To square off with the lone dragon tree in one corner, I moved my ponytail palm from the front bed into the rockery. Being at the other end of the bed to the lone dragon tree, it makes sense. Huzzah!

Then I planted a dwarf apricot tree. My sister donated a hydrangea, and I planted a few of my mother’s orchids. If you choose to plant an orchid, use the proper potting mix (similar to bark). They do well in the shade.
I still had a gnarly stump in the rockery and an unwieldy section of the tree trunk that was too big to cut with a chainsaw. In the case of immovable obstacles, why not turn them into features? Beneath the dragon tree, I set the section of the trunk upright. Then I turned both the stump and the trunk into wood sculptures by decorating them with my father’s aerophytes (air plants) and rocks.

The last stage of the transformation was to spread bark in between the plants and the stones. I think it looks great. Yesterday, my three-year-old granddaughter came over to visit. When we took a walk in “Nana’s garden,” she automatically dashed over and hopped from stone to stone across the rockery bed. It was a wonderful moment.
I hope you have gained some inspiration for your difficult garden beds. Let me know your stories.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt

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Last weekend got off to a bad start. At 8 am Thursday, I woke up to find I was locked out of my Outlook and Facebook accounts, and dirty, rotten hackers had taken virtual control of my life. It seems I learned nothing from being scammed (by phone) back in 2016. I had fallen victim to a phishing scam. Gherkins!

Unfortunately, I am not alone. Hacking and scamming can happen to anyone anywhere. These jerks can take our money, ruin our credit rating, scam more people through us, and then they will sell our details to those people who compile sucker lists. One hour after changing the password to one of my accounts, I was alerted by my provider that there had been a new attempt to hack into the same account. Thursday morning, the suspicious activity came from Nigeria, and by Thursday afternoon, the suspicious activity had skipped countries to Australia!

Four days later, however, and I had restored peace on all fronts. Let me tell you how I did it, with a hacking checklist of the steps to take to recover control of your accounts. But, first, let us have a brush up on the signs to watch out for whenever you are online, so you can avoid getting hacked or scammed in the first place.

Three red flags to watch out for:


*First Red Flag: They will say they are from a big reputable company because you are more likely to take them seriously. Microsoft is one of the most commonly-used covers. Scammers called me on my old landline and told me they were calling from Microsoft in 2016, and then the hacking event last week came apparently from Microsoft Customer Service.
*My Tip: Find the local phone number. Every country, even little old New Zealand, will have a landline for a branch of a giant corporation like Microsoft, and you can ask them if the request for action you have received is bonafide.

*Second Red Flag: They want you to act immediately.
*My Tip: Anything can wait till the next day. If they have given you a deadline to act by, wait until morning. If you pass the deadline they have given you, and nothing happens, then you will know they are dirty rotten hackers.

*Third Red Flag: They always want money, sooner or later. The request might not come first or second, it might be months down the track, but as soon as they ask for money, you can smell a rat. In my case, they did not request money from me but from all my friends and contacts, who they asked to purchase $300 Amazon gift cards on my behalf.
*My Tip: As soon as they request money and you smell that rat, trust your instincts and ask for proof of identity. If they are your friend, ask how you know each other, where did you first meet? Or ask to speak to them by video face-to-face call. Then, see how fast they run.

Hacking Checklist:


*Call the police. Yes. Information theft is a crime, and you need to report it. It will not only grant you as the victim support and guidance, but it will also help the police protect others. In New Zealand, the police encourage us to email a report to the police as well, via the site https://www.cert.govt.nz/individuals/
*Find the phishing emails and forward them to the police, as this helps keep them up to date with cyber-crime. Then block the senders.
*Call the bank. Alert them to your situation, ask them to put a hold on your credit card until you have had your computer cleaned of viruses and malware.
*Contact all the people on your friend lists to alert them to your situation.
*Tell your email provider about the scam.
*Change your online passwords to ones that are long and strong. Make sure you create a unique password for each account. Enable two-factor authentication.
*To recover your Facebook account, follow the steps by visiting https://www.facebook.com/hacked Report the problem to Facebook.
*Take your computer to IT professionals and check your system for malware. It is the only way to be 100% certain you are free. I backed up all my files then had my laptop wiped clean and reset.
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In these ways I was able to reclaim control of my virtual life. I hope this post helps someone else! I will share Part Two next week with some of my tips on cyber security.


Stay safe, everyone! Let’s foil the bad guys by staying one step ahead.

Keep Creating!
Take care,
Yvette Carol
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“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind!” – C.S. Lewis.

When I moved back to “the old homestead,” the house my father built in 1962, I had grand designs for a large vegetable garden. The plot would cover the whole right corner of this quarter acre section. It still hasn’t happened. I pictured it in that spot because growing up, I remember my parents tending vegetables there. They had rows of raised beds with a path down the middle. If mum and dad were not at work, they were tending the garden and they produced a lot of fruit and vegetables from this small property. I aspired to do the same.

That was before I had my two youngest boys. A sunken trampoline took up residence in my designated vegetable plot. Life became crazy busy and somehow eighteen years went by. Our only vegetable patch has been a narrow strip of earth in the front yard. And we spend a small fortune at the greengrocers every week. My two teenage boys eat enough fruit and vegetables each day for a small rhinoceros. I thought, I have to find a way of creating a vegetable patch. After some research and conversations with knowledgeable types, (friends and family members), I came up with a plan. I built my own raised bed and you can do it too.

Here’s how:

Start by choosing where the plot is going to be, and how you want it to look. It seems obvious, but if you’re not clear, you will waste valuable time later when the builder arrives. It will cost more and make the process a lot less enjoyable.

I chose an area close to the kitchen.

Measure the area so you know how much wood you’ll need. Research your timber, as most woods will need painting to help them resist water and soil. Some people line raised beds with thin rubber sheeting as well. *Tip: I ordered macrocarpa sleepers. They are more expensive than other timbers, but the macrocarpa doesn’t require painting or lining. The high resin content makes it resistant to rot, and being untreated with chemicals, the wood is not harmful for the vegetables. Originally I’d wanted the raised bed to be the height of two sleepers, but because my chosen wood was so expensive I made it the height of one sleeper instead. *Look for the native resinous timbers that are available in your area.

Next, dig out your patch of ground. Why dig? There are greeblies (official term) that live in the grass and upper topsoil that are harmful to vegetables. If you try to put your soil directly on top of your lawn, the vegetables will not thrive. You’ll need to dig down at least 5 -7 cm and remove the turfs. *Tip: Water the area of ground to be dug beforehand. It softens the soil and makes it easier to dig.

Take a rake and level the exposed soil. My chosen area was on a slope, so I levelled as best I could. Then hire someone to do the building if you can’t do it yourself so the structure will come together properly and stay straight.

Figure out how much soil you will need. *Tip: ask the builder. That’s what I did. I ordered a cubic metre of soil from a landscaping company, half a cubic metre of topsoil to give the bed density, and half a cubic metre of the lighter “garden mix” of composted soil. *Tip: topsoil will still have weeds in it, so it’s worth buying the expensive composted material for the top layer.

Lay the topsoil in the bed first then fill with the garden mixture soil heaping it up into a generous mound. *Tip: it needs to be extra high as it will settle with time.

Sprinkle handfuls of fertilizer (I used blood & bone) into the top layer of soil, mix it in with a garden fork, and then rake the surface smooth. Mix with compost if you have it.

Water the soil and cover the mound with bark mulch. The mulch keeps in moisture, deters birds, and it also retards the weeds.

Now, it’s time to plant the vegetables.

Last, but not least, you need to construct a netting tent to prevent birds from pecking your new plants out of the ground. The netting will act as a light frost cloth, protecting your plants from frost in the mornings, and do triple-duty, acting as a shade cloth to keep out some of the harsh sun.

I used sturdy bamboo stakes, bird netting, and twisty ties. It was easy to wedge the bamboo stakes into place with bricks in the corners and sides of the raised bed. Then I affixed the bird netting to the stakes using twisty ties.

What do you think?

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. ~Audrey Hepburn

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When I first started this blog, I shared how to make a homemade greeting card at this time of year. The tradition of making my own cards with photos of my youngest boys started with my middle son’s birth. Samuel was born with Down Syndrome in 2002, and featuring him on our card was a way of celebrating his arrival.

Sam’s younger brother came along two years later, and I’ve made these photo cards every year since then. I love the ritual of taking the photo for the card and bringing out all my card-making materials. Crafts are fun! Just seeing my glitter and stickers and the carefully saved paper brings a smile to my face. It’s like being a kid again. Personally I am a fan of homemade looking festive things rather than the store-bought variety.

This year I failed to get my two teenage boys to smile for our greeting card photo, however, it’s still an excellent likeness of them and I made the best of the shot I got. For those who are new to this blog, I will share how we make our family greeting card for next-to-nothing.

Start by organising the kids, the dog, whatever your subject is, and snapping your photo for the card. Then print on regular A4 paper at a dinky size and cut out.

Take cheap Christmas cards (I bought ours from the dollar store) and make them smaller. I use “guides” for the sizes which I made myself out of cardboard, so the layers have the same dimensions.

You have the first two items you need for your card, a stack of cut-down cards (preserving the message inside if possible) and a stack of your cut out photos.

Next is the saved wrapping paper. On Christmas Day each year, I save the interesting pieces of wrapping paper for making the following year’s cards.

At this stage in the card production, I take my saved paper, set the iron on a low heat and iron out the wrinkles. *My tip, iron the paper with the picture side down, in case any ink comes away. Then it doesn’t mar your iron’s surface and it also protects the ink.

Take a second cardboard “guide” that is smaller than the card and larger than the photo. Cut your saved Christmas paper to this size.

Now you have your photos, your cards, and cut-down Christmas paper.

The next step is to cut little flags of “Angelina Hot Fix.” This is a synthetic product made by Funky Fibres here in NZ. I’m sure you could find a similar product where you are. Hot Fix come in different funky colours. You spread a handful between baking paper then iron on a low heat and the fibres fuse, making a thin sheet of sparkly material. I cut out small rectangles of Hot Fix, one for each of my cards.

The first step of constructing the cards entails gluing the Christmas paper to the card, at the same time trapping a wedge of Hot Fix in between so that one end extends like a flag.

*Tip: dry and flatten the cards after you apply each layer; I put them between chopping boards and pile various weights on to press them. The second step is to glue the photo on top.

The third step is the best part—embellishments! Time to decorate the front of the cards with the glitter and ‘gems’ and stickers and doodads to your heart’s delight.

Inside each envelope I like to include a surprise, usually gift tags, or I also have a set of miniature antique postcards which I bought in a thrift store once, and I’ll include a couple of those with each one. Make sure to match your envelope as closely as possible to the size of the card. It looks better that way.

Write personal messages inside your works of art and post away.

What do you think of this year’s greeting card?  

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat. ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

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